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Outcomes

The aim of the CPI is to equip students to be “agents of renewal” within the prison system. Areas of work for students are academic, ministry, and life skills. What we have found is that the more students sec themselves as moral and spiritual leaders, the more they naturally look for ways to impact positively other CPI students and the prison population in general. In terms of our second research question—regarding the role the program has played in CPI students seeing themselves as moral and spiritual leaders—the program has allowed and equipped students to rethink who they arc and what they can accomplish. Without question, the program has given students increased self-worth, confidence, purpose, and meaning for their lives and their peers. In terms of the first research question—regarding the impact of the CPI program on the CPI student body—the program has contributed to an eagerness of the students to serve one another and inmates throughout the prison. For instance, students have created academic resources, such as a tutoring center, study groups, and a writers’ club for CPI students and other prisoners. They have served in a variety of Christian ministries, including Bible studies, prayer groups, grief counseling, preaching, and a choir. And finally, several groups of CPI students have helped prisoners enrolled in a trades program (e.g., plumbing, automotive, etc.) to develop the necessary academic skills to pass certification tests as well as the necessary soft skills needed for the job market, such as putting together a resume, learning how to interview, and balancing a bank account.

Program and Research Opportunities

The aforementioned data yielded compelling evidence that the CPI is indeed equipping CPI students to become “agents of renewal” in the Michigan prison system, particularly by equipping them to serve as moral and spiritual leaders in their communities. With this foundation set, numerous opportunities for growth emerge. One specific opportunity as the program continues to develop is to explore the inclusion of vocational formation with the other themes of educational, personal, and community formation. To intentionally enhance vocationally developmental opportunities within the program, we could not only expand into other facets of formation, but also improve alignment between the CPI students’ experience and outcomes with those of traditional Calvin students. As mentioned above, vocation is one of the four pillars of Calvin’s educational framework, thus one worth exploring further in the CPI.

To pursue this aim, we intend to begin implementing opportunities for CPI students to engage in a variety of internships and eventually “careers” within the prison system. Our biggest challenge at the moment is moving CPI students from a more theoretical treatment of personal and communal growth and service to a more concrete and daily one. That is, we are encouraging our students to discern a sense of calling in regard to a career within a prison setting even though they may be serving long or even life sentences. Just as on Calvin’s Knollcrest campus, we encourage our students to discern how their academic work will translate into other forms of “work.”

As identified above, we arc focusing on their areas of service within the prison setting (e.g., education, ministry, and life skills). Corresponding to these three areas will be internship opportunities. The aim is to provide semester-long internships for CPI students with supervision from both the MDOC and Calvin University. Like any typical student internship, the hope is that CPI students will have opportunities to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life settings and situations, moving from student life to professional life. In regard to the latter, we are working with the administration of the MDOC “employing” our CPI students in a variety of prisons for “careers” within the MDOC. We envision CPI students working as chaplains, instructors, and life coaches alongside full-time MDOC employees. In this way, graduates of the CPI will contribute both to the rehabilitation of inmates and to the work of MDOC employees, thereby enhancing the well-being of the wider community of the MDOC. Michigan is not alone in struggling to run a strong department of corrections with a limited budget. We hope CPI graduates will alleviate and enhance the work of the MDOC as they try to do more with less. Moreover, our hope is that CPI students will have an equally significant impact beyond the walls of the MDOC and reach into communities throughout Michigan impacted by mass incarceration.

 
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